Don’t Speak: On Writers and Angst and How to Deal

Posted by houndrat on Saturday Feb 19, 2011 Under writing, Young Adult

Is it just me, or does a ton of publishing advice lately seem to revolve around telling writers to glue their tongues to the roofs of their mouths? Rules. Everywhere you look, more and more rules. But these rules aren’t about writing—at least, not as it pertains to drafting novels. They’re more a list of what writers SHOULDN’T write about on the internet. A list of writer DON’Ts. Such as:

DON’T talk about the querying process
DON’T talk about the submission process
DON’T talk about agents
DON’T talk about books unless you LOVE them
DON’T talk about anything negative
DON’T talk
DON’T talk
DON’T talk

Zip it!

This might sound easy, simple, cake-esque. The truth is, it’s not. Not at all.
Personally, I think it’s unfortunate that we have this mindset, that talking about anything other than successes or double rainbows is taboo.

For one:

There are a lot of misconceptions out there regarding parts of the publishing process, especially if we’re talking about going on submission to editors. Which makes sense, given how we’re lectured up and down that what happens on sub, stays in Vegas. Or, yanno. But for me, this policy is problematic. It’s problematic, because new authors going on sub for the first time only hear about the huge success stories—you know the ones, about the books that went to auction after, like, two minutes—and have NO CLUE about the more common stories. The ones where it takes weeks, months, years, even a second or third or fifth book to sell. And, if we writers follow The Rules, we have no way of accessing that information. Because we aren’t allowed to take about it. See the problem yet? (for an amazing post by a writer who shared her submission journey, go to Natalie Whipple’s blog)

For two:

Us writers? We’re angsty creatures by nature. We can angst over things that most people wouldn’t bother devoting even an eighth of a brain cell to. Things like, “I can’t tell if my agent was mad at me in that last email—she didn’t use any <3’s this time,” or “I just lost a follower on twitter. One! Whole! Follower! WHAT DOES IT MEAN?” or “OMG, did you see that another YA contemporary set on the planet EARTH sold on PM? That’s right—EARTH, just like mine! My novel is doomed!”

Bottling up this angst? Not good. Not good at all. Not unless we want to trigger our own Writerpocalypse, which, while potentially far more colorful than the Snowpocalypse, would also involve a whole lot more clean-up. And bleach.

I’ll be honest. Even WRITING this post makes me a little angsty. I worry I’ll be labeled a troublemaker or a complainer or that-writer-who-used-the-word-angst-way-too-many-times-in-one-post. No, honestly, that’s just how it feels. Like once you decide to become a writer, you’d better run and sign up for a daily sunshine enema, because God forbid you ever mention you’re experiencing any of those less-than-perfect feelings writers naturally feel once they get serious about…writing.

On a more serious note, I get that writers should be cautious online, and that no one wants to hear a constant stream of negativity. But at the same time, no one wants to feel like they’re being smothered, either, or as a writer friend recently said, “sanitized.” Or rendered voice-less. Writing is a socially isolating endeavor, and that leaves writers at a higher risk of certain health issues already. So angsting suffering in silence may not be the wisest solution.

My suggestion, and one that I hope satisfies both sides? Form a safe haven for yourself, a place where you can discuss the anxiety-ridden parts of being a writer without worrying about repercussions. I’ve actually created a list of “Writer Dos” to replace those “Writer Don’ts” because personally, I find “Dos” much more palatable.

DO group up with other writers, some of whom are at the same place in their publishing careers as you.
DO form a private discussion group (such as Google Groups), email list, or forum (such as invisionfree or forumotion.
DO make sure everyone knows the new forum and its contents are to remain PRIVATE, at the penalty of offenders having their Macs replaced with manual typewriters.
DO use that group to angst as needed. Vent and moan and groan all you want about querying and subbing and who wrote the most ridiculous book ever, and why, oh why, can’t people STOP writing contemporaries set on YOUR PLANET until your book sells?
DO read all the information you can on what different publishing professionals say about online protocol. Read it, and then come to your own conclusions.

And if reaching out to other writers and honestly voicing my opinion here makes me a complainer? You know what? I can live with that.

Also, just because:

needs ketchup!

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28 Responses to “Don’t Speak: On Writers and Angst and How to Deal”

  1. Sarah Says:

    “Things like, “I can’t tell if my agent was mad at me in that last email—she didn’t use any <3’s this time,” or “I just lost a follower on twitter. One! Whole! Follower! WHAT DOES IT MEAN?” or “OMG, did you see that another YA contemporary set on the planet EARTH sold on PM? That’s right—EARTH, just like mine! My novel is doomed!”"

    DUDE. ARE YOU STALKING ME!?!?

    Seriously, sending as much as I can your way right now for writing this post. All of us writerly types really needed to hear this. ;) THANK YOU.

  2. Chanelle Says:

    What a great post. This is exactly the kind of attitude we should be having.

  3. Sage Says:

    Excellent post, chica. I especially love the “For two.” Yep, that’s us, all right.
    Sage recently posted..Lots of Love- er- Friday 2-11-11

  4. Michelle Says:

    I LOVE YOU.

    And this post. But mostly you!!! (And doggie hotdog! Yumm.) I think this is such a great post for so many reasons. The least of them being ‘sunshine enemea’. XD

    I needed to hear this. More writers need to hear this, PERIOD.

  5. JennW Says:

    hahaha. planet earth and <3s in emails. I am frieken dying here. Seriously, this post is right on. I agree with you that we all need a place to chat and angst at times and as I said in my blog yesterday, what is a writer without her angst? Srsly, writers (and anyone else in the universe) cannot be expected to be all smiles and happy all the time. We get rejected for a living, we gotta let that negativity out somewhere. Great post.:D

  6. Lisa Says:

    This post is so timely! This morning, I found myself wondering if I shouldn’t just take an online vacation rather than navigate the minefield of many things I shouldn’t say online. I like your list of DO’s. And the hotdog couldn’t be cuter. Thanks!!

    I hope you are having a happy Saturday!

  7. Stephanie Says:

    Awesome post. I <3 <3 <3 you so much right now for putting this up.

  8. Stephanie Says:

    Also, I now have a Ke$ha song in my head. Now my kids will have to listen to me sing “Blah! Blah! Blah!” all night.

  9. Clovia Says:

    Blasphemer!!!

    Juuuuust kidding. Great post.

    I said a lot more, but deleted it, because <..>

    <.<

    Yeah, that's why :D

  10. Clovia Says:

    …and that was supposed to be shifty, paranoid eyes, but the post ate some of my < s

  11. Monica B.W. Says:

    Oh Deb! This post was so great!
    It was like you’re reading my mind!
    And I’ll be sure to send you lots of <3 s on my next email!!

    Cutest hot-dog EVAH! :D

  12. Jennifer Says:

    Deb, I <3 you so much!!

    This post makes such great points. I hate feeling I can't be honest because it may hurt me in the future. I think you present a nice common ground.

    And private forums, rock, as long as the members can be trusted.

  13. cat hellisen Says:

    Excellent post.

    I agree wholeheartedly with having a SAFE private group somewhere to angst (and be happy about each other’s success, and share leads and kitten pictures, etc).

  14. Susanne Winnacker Says:

    Great post, Deb! <3 <3
    Susanne Winnacker recently posted..Review- XVI by Julia Karr

  15. Erica Henry Says:

    Great post! I really do think your advice is spot on :D
    Erica Henry recently posted..Check out the awesome giveaway

  16. Yahong Chi Says:

    “having their Macs replaced with manual typewriters” – because that’s the ULTIMATE threat!! :P Good thing I’m using Windows. :D
    I really like this idea, Debra. I think having a ‘haven’ as you put it is super-important for writers. What works IMO is a close relative who’ll listen but has no idea what the publishing industry is like, so nothing could get routed back into this tangled web.
    Yahong Chi recently posted..Judgemental Friday- Blogging platforms &amp followers

  17. Elissa J. Hoole Says:

    There is something so important about having a private place for writers to speak in confidence, but I think you’re right, too, in saying that at times the silencing gets to be a bit much. There are times when I seriously cannot think of a thing to blog about because everything I want to say gets covered up with fear for what that might mean to POSSIBLE readers, you know? And I’ve said elsewhere that I feel like, in regard to reviewing books, I’d rather be honest and balanced than falsely complimentary in order to not offend. I go out of my way to contact the authors of books that really work for me, and I try never to say things in public about the books I don’t like that will jeopardize my career, but I hate the idea of not being able to say *anything* negative ever in public about the process of becoming and living as a writer.

  18. Hayley Says:

    Great post! I totally agree.

    I’ve personally gone back and forth on the book review thing for a few months, and yes, I’ve decided to go the whole ‘only post about books you love’ route. But I don’t inflate my opinion of any book I post about. If I gush about a book on my blog, it’s because I truly LOVED it and want everyone to know how awesome it is (and I really need an outlet for book gushing, since very few of my real-life friends read, haha). But I agree, I don’t want to feel like I’m sanitized. I’m not at the querying stage yet, so my posts are mostly about my struggles and successes with the actual writing and revising processes, which as yet are ok to talk about. I like being able to talk about the ups and downs of the process with other writers, but even then I try not to come off as whiny, haha.

    And love the hot dog pic :)
    Hayley recently posted..Do Blurbs Affect Your Book-Buying Decisions

  19. Other LIsa Says:

    Great post. Though am I the only one who sees <3 and thinks it looks like butt cheeks?
    Other LIsa recently posted..Coming Soon- to an MP3 Player Near You!

  20. JamieB Says:

    BRAVO! (They’ve dispatched the man with the baseball bat in the black limo- RUN!)

  21. Phoebe Says:

    I love this (and my writing group!).

    I’ve found the recent blog posts to be problematic, too, especially because, in aggregate, they could be seen as silencing those who already feel/are powerless. It’s stinky.
    Phoebe recently posted..Review- Liar by Justine Larbalestier

  22. Kaitlin Says:

    Private places to vent FTW! I do think it’s always very important to think before you post something publicly on the internet, but often when I see something that makes me cringe it’s tone rather than content that’s the problem (which is where forethought helps).
    The “don’t write negative book reviews” idea that’s come up a lot lately, in particular, makes me sad. I appreciate a well-written negative book review. Not everyone wants to do them, and that’s fine, but I think writers bring a unique experience into their reviews, and would hate to see all those bluntly honest but well done reviews gone.

  23. Kathleen Says:

    Awesome post, dude. Like Kaitlin said, private places for the win! For better or worst, I tend to be a very private person and I’m just more comfortable telling a few friends when things are wrong or when I’m feeling angsty.

  24. Lola Sharp Says:

    Mwahahaha!

    “Daily Sunshine Enema” should be on the shelves. Perhaps Tony Robins, Zoloft and Summer’s Eve should get on that. ;)
    Lola Sharp recently posted..With a Heavy Heart

  25. Claire Dawn Says:

    I’m not a fan of how much we’re not supposed to say. And I’m definitely going to say some things I’m not supposed to. I’m bipolar. I stopped apologising for my shizzle a long time ago. The world either deals with it or doesn’t. Pretending to be all sunshine and rainbows and then jumping off a bridge isn’t going to fly.

    That said, I still believe in common courtesy. I’m not staging agent of publisher takedowns on my blog. I’m not even sure I’ll tell my friends when I query or submit.

  26. Traci Says:

    I whole-heartedly agree with your post. Thank you for voicing exactly how I feel! I’m still early in the submission process and have read recent blogs that warn against writers ever saying ANYTHING. About anything. lol Very frustrating. Umm, we’re writers! We write and express ourselves!

    Also, I think information is power. If everyone silenced themselves, nobody would ever share vital information (the realities of the publishing biz). I’m grateful for those, like yourself, who will speak out. So, thanks! ;-)
    Traci recently posted..Put Me to Shame

  27. Jill Hathaway Says:

    LOVE THIS.

    I think this has something to do with why I haven’t been blogging lately. If I blog too much wangst, it’s annoying and suggests that I and my writing are inferior; if I blog too much about my successes, it’s kind of braggy and annoying.

    No win.
    Jill Hathaway recently posted..wanna see something AWESOME

  28. Kelley Vitollo Says:

    Awesome post. I totally agree.
    Kelley Vitollo recently posted..Returning to the land of the living

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